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No contact yet with Taliban for U.S. troops helping in Pakistan

By Chris Lawrence, Pentagon Correspondent
U.S. troops helping out in flooded area of Pakistan have had no fights with the Taliban, a general said Friday.
U.S. troops helping out in flooded area of Pakistan have had no fights with the Taliban, a general said Friday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More than 100 U.S. troops are on the ground in Pakistan
  • They are helping mainly with rescue efforts in the Swat Valley
  • They have not been in any conflicts with the Taliban

(CNN) -- More than 100 U.S. troops are on the ground in a volatile area of Pakistan, helping that government deliver supplies and rescue people from flood-ravaged areas, but a U.S. general said Friday when it comes to fights with the Taliban, rescue teams have had "none."

"Obviously there's a militant threat in this region, but the Pakistani military has done an incredibly committed job -- providing us multiple layers of security around our units. All our activities and helicopters are completely safe," U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Michael Nagata told reporters in a conference call from Pakistan.

The U.S. military is primarily operating in the Swat River Valley, an area of Pakistan where militants have been involved in violent clashes with the Pakistani military.

"There are risks here, as with other parts of the region, in dealing with violent extremists." But so far, Nagata says American troops "have not been involved in any conflicts with insurgent fighters."

The bigger problem, said Nagata, is the weather.

"Air crews have only been able to fly five days since U.S. forces arrived two weeks ago. The military says it sent up a reconnaissance flight Friday, but the pilots reported the weather was too bad to risk putting the larger cargo helicopters in the air," he said.

The U.S. Army is preparing to leave, and the Marines have started arriving to take over the relief effort. Five Marine helicopters are on the deck now, although Nagata said they're not yet operational in the affected areas. A total of 19 have been sent, along with the USS Peleliu, an amphibious assault ship.

"We hope to get them up there fairly soon," Nagata said.

The Marines will focus on the same jobs as their U.S. Army counterparts: flying through the Swat Valley, delivering relief supplies and rescuing people trapped in isolated areas by the floods. The U.S. military is there at the request of Pakistan's government.

"They know everything that is coming over on our planes, and have been very supportive," Nagata insisted.

Outbreaks of fever and skin disease are increasing throughout Pakistan. But the U.S. military said American soldiers and Marines have been insulated -- they're working in the Swat Valley, while the outbreaks are primarily in the southern region of the country.

"The area we're operating in was devastated by the rush of water that came down from high ground, but there's not a lot of standing water like there is down south. I've seen reports of health threats emerging in other parts of the country, but the Pakistani military has devoted a sizable unit to work with our troops, including doctors and physician assistants," Nagata said.